Siesta time is a sacred tradition of the Greeks, spanning back many centuries.
Although modern life has had an impact on the short nap (taken in the early afternoon often after the midday meal), in the less touristy parts of the country, towns and villages can be deserted between 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm during the summer months.
This rare photo of an Athenian taking a nap at the base of a column at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, with the Acropolis looming in the background, symbolizes an era when Greek life was more relaxed, where people could engage in a much-needed afternoon siesta undeterred.
The photo, from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries, is said to have been taken in the early to mid-20th century. However, its exact date is unknown.
Siesta time was a sacred part of Greek life
For many years, siesta time was a sacred part of life, especially in the many small villages dotting the country.
There is even a Greek law on the books ordering “hours of common silence,” which imposes heavy penalties for those breaking the rules. However, it is rarely enforced in urban areas.
Of course, siesta time is not exclusively Greek, as it’s extremely widespread in places like Spain and Italy.
People living elsewhere in the hot climes of the Mediterranean and Latin America are known to take time off during the afternoons to re-energize their batteries for the long evening and night ahead.
The term comes from the Latin meaning the “sixth hour”
The name comes from the Latin “hora sexta,” which means “the sixth hour.” Since the hours of the day begin at dawn, the sixth hour is noon, which is when siestas often start.
They usually continue until later in the afternoon, when the sun is less strong and the heat is less intense. After their naps, Greeks usually have a bite to eat and then continue working until the evening.
However, touristy regions in Greece do not enforce siesta times, and the custom is slowly dying off in the private sector, where people hope to maximize their working hours.
However, the siesta makes perfect sense to anyone after they have experienced the sweltering heat of the Greek summer — and especially when you consider the Greek tendency to stay up into the wee hours, enjoying all that summer nights there have to offer.